The government’s decision to cancel the contentious $300 million contract with Montana-based Whitefish Energy will set back restoring Puerto Rico’s power fully by about four months, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Executive Director Ricardo Ramos said Sunday.
His comments came a few hours after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked PREPA’s Governing Board to proceed immediately with invoking the contract cancellation clause with Whitefish Energy.
“We are moving our staff to redefine the logistics of what will be a delay of between 10 and 12 weeks,” Ramos said at a press conference.
The governor’s petition came after weeks of mounting pressure over Whitefish Energy’s credentials and certain irregularities related to how the contract was awarded.
As reported, Whitefish Energy had only two employees at the time it landed the $300 million job to rebuild Puerto Rico’s energy grid, which Hurricane María demolished when it made landfall on Sept. 20.
So far, PREPA has paid Whitefish Energy some $11 million to bring its brigades and equipment, and still owes some $10 million in outstanding invoices, Ramos said.
Whitefish Energy confirmed it brought 350 workers with specific expertise and were on track to have more than 500 linemen on the island by this week if allowed to continue. It also brought more than 600 pieces and 2,500 tons of equipment, including 400 trucks, cranes and excavators, as well as five helicopters.
To make up for the reduction of brigades that will stem from the cancellation of Whitefish Energy’s contract, and to deal with the delay in the arrival of the brigades of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the governor will request a “mutual aid agreement” with the states of Florida and New York.
“I have given instructions to immediately proceed with the necessary coordination with the states of Florida and New York, in order for brigades and equipment to arrive on the island,” Rosselló said
“This opportunity is now presented as an alternative, after conversations with the governor of Florida, Rick Scott; and the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo; and since the USACE has not been able to fulfill its objective in the originally stipulated time,” said governor Rosselló, who a few days ago had vowed that by Oct. 31, at least 30 percent of PREPA customers would have service and that by Dec. 15 that number would increase to 95 percent.
“I am grateful for the effort that the PREPA staff is doing together with the contracted companies. These goals are aggressive and require the collaboration of all to be able to have more than 1,000 brigades in Puerto Rico by Nov. 8,” Rosselló said.
“At the moment, PREPA and its contractors have 404 brigades working on the island, while the USACE has seven,” he added. “There can be no distraction that alters the commitment to repair the power grid as quickly as possible.”
In a statement, Whitefish Energy expressed disappointment over the governor’s decision, which it said “will only delay what the people of Puerto Rico want and deserve — to have the power restored quickly in the same manner their fellow citizens on the mainland experience after a natural disaster.”
“We will certainly finish any work that PREPA wants us to complete and stand by our commitments knowing that we made an important contribution to the restoration of the power grid since our arrival on the island on Oct. 2,” the company stated.
The Whitefish Energy team completed significant work on two major transmission lines that crossed over the mountains of Puerto Rico and some critical work on very remote parts to the south, which are only accessible by helicopter and heavy equipment.
“The original decision by PREPA to have Whitefish Energy come to the Puerto Rico only sped up the repairs, and if it were not for that action, crews would just now be getting to the island to begin the process of rebuilding the system and restoring power,” the company said.
It remains unclear how much the cancellation will cost PREPA and the government.